Sail into Carnival
What better way to enjoy the revelry of Carnival than from the deck of a private yacht?
Mar. 27, 2007 12:00 AM
Carnival. Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday. Lundi Gras. Shrove Tuesday. Fastnacht. Fettisdagen. Uzgavens. All are names synonymous with the weeks of partying leading up to Lent. And while many people think of New Orleans as the Mardi Gras capital of the world, celebrations in Nice, Venice, Rio, and throughout the Caribbean may be equally deserving of the title. Here’s what some of the world’s most popular seaside locations have planned for this year’s Carnival.
It’s only fair to note that the two-week celebratory period preceding Lent has its origins in serious, pagan rites that originated in ancient times when Carnival was more of a spring festival, celebrating fertility and the end of winter. Later, it was adapted to the Roman Catholic religion as a period of merriment preceding the darker, somber days of Ash Wednesday and the restrictions of Lent. In fact, the word Carnival comes from the Italian words, carne and vale, which mean, without meat, referring to the 40-day Lenten period preceding Easter in which no meat is consumed. This celebration spread to other Catholic countries in Europe and to colonies where European Catholics were engaged in the slave trade.
While Carnival traditionally lasted for two weeks, ending on the Tuesday (i.e., Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday) preceding Ash Wednesday, dates now vary to prolong the celebration. But no matter where it’s held or what its length, every Carnival celebration features colorful parades, floats, traditional foods, music, entertainment, masks, costumes and elaborate masquerade balls.
In some cities, events are quite expensive and reservations must be made far in advance. Tickets for some of the most extravagant balls cost hundreds of dollars apiece, and in many locations, grandstands are set up and seats sold to view the best parades. Prime Carnival celebrations are now held wherever there is a strong Catholic or Caribbean population, including (see opposite page):
New Orleans (January 6 – February 20)
European Catholics brought the traditions of Carnival to America, primarily in the south, where slaves incorporated their own traditions of African and Creole music and dance. Today, local citizens still celebrate the festivities as a tie to their ethnic roots. Events in New Orleans begin officially on January 6, with the arrival of Three Kings Day and escalate till they reach a peak with dozens of parades, bead throwing, costumes and music on Fat Tuesday.
Venice (February 9 – 20)
In Venice, there are both public and private masquerade balls to amuse the hundreds of thousands of people who flow into the area to celebrate. Many don elaborate costumes and masks. A huge masquerade ball, which is free to the public, is held in St. Mark’s Square. Smaller private events are by invitation only, and take place throughout the labyrinthine city, many in historical palaces. Of course, a must-see for all is the gondola parade on the Grand Canal, followed by fireworks in one of the most romantic settings imaginable.
Nice (February 16 – March 4)
Nice hosts the most popular Carnaval on the Riviera, with elaborate daily parades, costumes and entertainment. Costumed revelers on floats bedecked with flowers roll down the Boulevard d’Anglais, tossing flowers to more than a million onlookers who have traveled to this beautiful French port city from all over the world to take part in the annual events. In the evening, dazzling displays of fireworks light up le Baie des Anges.
Martinique (January 1– February 21)
Across the Atlantic, in another part of France, the island of Martinique’s theme for Ash Wednesday has long been “Rejoice today, repent tomorrow.” So unlike other Carnival celebrations that wind down on Shrove Tuesday, Martinique has put off the penitence by adding an extra 24 hours to Carnival by partying right through Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. This year, more than 40 marching bands are scheduled to keep spirits high throughout the day. Then, a few weeks later, the island celebrates an official holiday known as Mi-Careme –mid-Lent—when fasting is suspended for 24 hours while celebrations go into full swing for the day. On Martinique, as well as on the many other Caribbean islands that celebrate Carnival, local customs play a prominent role in a wide array of festivities and themed parades. Some costumed parade marchers carry fantastically dressed puppets called bwa bwa, while others participate covered in coal tar and sugarcane syrup. Still others, in a “mock wedding” parade, wear their wives’ white wedding dresses and play the part of pregnant wives while their wives dress as grooms and act as reluctant husbands Native revelers dance the beguine, which originated in Martinique, to the accompanying rhythms, and also those of zouk, salsa, soca, calypso, and reggae. Local dishes are popular, with matoutou, curried crab, on menus everywhere.
Aruba (January 1– February 20)
On the Caribbean island of Aruba, Carnival festivities stretch out for two months, beginning January 1, and pick up speed as Lent draws nearer. The Torch Parade is the first official parade, followed by a Lighting Parade through Oranjestad in which floats and costumes are illuminated with tiny lights; a balloon parade; several children’s parades; a horse parade; and more. Music plays a large role throughout the celebration, uniting many cultures with tumba music from the Antilles, calypso and steel drums from the Caribbean, salsa from Latin neighbors, and a smattering of oom-pa-pa thrown in by the Dutch.
Rio (February 17 – 20)
Brazil’s Carnival traditions began when the Portuguese arrived. Today, Brazil’s capital city, Rio de Janeiro, often comes to mind as the “Carnival Capital of the World.” Although Rio packs its festivities into the four days preceding Ash Wednesday, preparations begin months in advance, and while Carnival celebrations are traditionally “hot” no matter where in the world they’re held, in Rio, Carnival occurs during the hottest month in the Southern Hemisphere—when summer is at its peak. Rio’s Carnival is known not only for providing entertainment for tourists, but as a true celebration of Brazilian culture. Expect lots of samba dancing and music, originally created by poor Afro-Brazilians. Much of today’s samba is still performed by Rio’s poorest residents who belong to hundreds of samba “schools.” These are not teaching institutions, but communities of passionate people devoted to the art and culture of samba and the creation of the Carnival pageantry. Schools compete and are ranked, then featured in Samba Parades on Carnival Sunday and Monday in the Sambodromo.
If you desire a more relaxing yacht vacation, with just a touch of Carnival, head to one of these Caribbean islands for a more manageable experience: Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, Grenada, St. Thomas, or St. Martin. And if you can’t make it to Carnival this year—start making your reservations now for 2008!